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Rohingya issue: The construction of identity

Published : Monday, 25 September, 2017 at 12:00 AM  Count : 683
Sayeed Ovi

In the year of 1767, a resilient, brave young man known as Kunta Kinte, was captured by four men from a forest of Gambia,and trafficked way to North America as a 'black slave'. Initially, he was named as 'Toby', but he was rather unwilling to accept the name sensing that this new identity will gradually obliterate his previous identity and past memories. Consequently, he got his leg cut off as a punishment not to obey his master. Many years later, after his demise, his daughter wiped the slave name from his father's tombstone and rewrite the true name of his: 'Kunta Kinte'.
Identity is one of the most fundamental and natural instinct of human characteristics that tend to answer the basic philosophical (and now a days socio-political) question ofwho am I. Self-identity is thought as 'a social assertion of the self as being somebody in the world. Individuals asses the similarity and dissimilarity with other individuals based on his and others' perceived identity. Perception, in this respect, has an immense significance in understanding the self and others. Self-identity is usually constituted on the ground of experiences and intuitions: the relationship with self and the relationship with others, as Luft and Ingham demonstrated. In other words, we not only create self-identity but also construct others' identity.
In every nation-state, numerous co-cultural or minority communities exist within the state boundary; controlled, influenced and often oppressed by a dominant cultural group, and often do conflict with each other. Dominant group of a state not only influence and rule over the lives of the minority groups, but also construct their identities in many ways, such as, (re)defining and politicizing the history, restricting the language of minority, political and economic oppression and deprivation, putting limitations in religious and cultural practices, misrepresentations, etc.
Though ethnic, racial or religious minorities largely oppressed and subordinated by the large group across the globe, many statesmen emerged from minority group. For instance, K R Narayanan (Dalit) and Gali Singh (Sikh) in India, Saddam Hussain (Sunni) in Iraq, Bashar Al Assad (Alawites) in Syria, Benjamin Disraeli (Jewish) in Britain, Barak Obama (Black) and many more names can be cited as examples. Sometimes minor group seize power and control the major group. However, the most common phenomenon is the history and events of domination and power play of the majority groups over the minority groups.
We see such social and cultural disintegration between majority and minority communities in contemporary political atmosphere in South Asian region as number of events are taking place propelled by ethnic, religious and cultural issues, such as: in India, Hindus are suppressing minority Muslims, in Bangladesh, Bengalis are forcing indigenous communities and minority Hindus, and most striking issue in recent time is the elimination or 'ethnic cleansing' of Rohingya Muslim minorities in Buddhist dominated Burma, a political domain of rising 'Buddhist' nationalism.
Rakhine state of Myanmar is the dwelling place of the most oppressed minority group in the world 'Rohingya' from roughly the eighth to ninth century. The state is often called as 'the Palestine of Asia'. The present government is carrying out ultimate brutality on Rohingya people to annihilate as well as to extirpate them from their own residence. As a result, almost half a million Rohingya people fled to Bangladesh and the number is increasing rapidly. This is the highest number of Rohingya people entering Bangladesh as refugee which surpasses the previous major displacements in 1978, 1992 and 2012.
The politics of truth and remaking the Rohingya history started from the very dawn of the independence of Myanmar from British colonial rule. A number of media and scholars are considering and dealing with the present violence on Rohingya in a smaller scale, merely on the basis of the superpowers' interests in Myanmar. But the hostility towards Rohingya erupted in the post-independent period with the recognition of Rohingya as outsider Bengalis. The abolishment of Rohingya citizenship, and there after the process was ongoing to oust the Rohingya people from the country during the military regime of Burmese Army General Ne Win in 1960s, though a number of Rohingya Muslims were echoed and played significant role in Myanmar's politics, and also nominated in parliament.
The fabricated history of Rohingya introduced by Myanmar government is a distorted version, which denies the true history of Rohingya people in this region that is previously authenticated by different schools and historians. Denial of the history of a community in a particular state is a major step to denial of the communities' right to existence in that state. Thus, Rohingya people become migrant in their own state, who were previously excluded from all kinds of political power and citizenship.
Even, the present State Counsellor of Myanmar as well as the Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi too found the Rohingya as invalid people in Myanmar.
She recently adorned her speech on Rohingya issue with wonderful lies demonstrating the current atrocities on Rohingya is a hoax and no such thing is happening in Rakhine state by Burmese army. British Somali poet Warson Shire's two verses can fit to the scene: "No one leaves home unless / home is the mouth of a shark."
The word 'Rohingya' is not officially recognized in Myanmar. Imtiaz Ahmed demonstrates two reasons behind this: Rohingyas are mixed group of people with many ethnic connections; most of the Rohingyas speak Bengali with a strong 'Chittangong dialect'. 'Arakan' is a Bengali, Arabic and Portuguese version of the local word 'Rakhine', and in Chittagong dialect, Rakhine is pronounced as 'Rohang', thus the people from this land are named as 'Rohingya'.
Ahmed states that the use of different terms or identities for the people of this part was not merely linguistic reason, rather their identity was politicized as Arakanese; Buddhist identify themselves as 'Rakhines' and the Arakanese Muslims as 'Rohingyas'.
Statelessness is a severe curse of modern human civilization. Refugees only know better the unfortunate and grim feelings of having no state and being no one in this vast world. The people of Bangladesh already have the bitter experiences of being stateless, the plight of being displaced and refugee.
Destruction of war, violence and forced migration compel people to undergo through a lot of hostile, repugnant situation with distress and desolation. These factors along with fear from insecurity may cause serious mental damages and trauma, and psychic alterations that easily can transform the tolerant either into revolutionary, or mob-maker.
But it is commonly thought that after enduring a tyranny of many days and years, the endured people become aggressive. For an instance, a few days ago, AP photographer has encountered with how a mob of Rohingya refugees beat and lynch suspected child snatcher at refugee camp.
So, Bangladesh government and native people always need to be vigilant about the large number of Rohingya refugees who are now dwelling within the state boundary.
Past trauma and the feel of insecurity can lead a feared community towards violence and insurgency. From many years, Rohingya people are suffering catastrophic ferocity conducted by Myanmar government. When enemy is within family, then who can be the saviour!
Bangladesh, in this respect, is playing a magnificent humanitarian role. Now, the crisis needs to be solved as soon as possible to make a safe return of the hapless Rohingya refugees to their own nest.

Sayeed Ovi is Researcher, Jahangirnagar University, Savar, Dhaka

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